When it was originally on: 1990-2000
Original network: Fox
Where you can stream it now: Hulu
Had I seen it before: No.
What IMDb says: A group of friends living in Beverly Hills, California make their way through life from their school days into adulthood.
Why I picked it: In 1990, network programming specifically intended for teenagers was a relatively new concept. Since I have a couple other teen dramas on The List (Dawson’s Creek and The OC to be specific), it seemed like covering one of the pioneers of this genre made sense. Enter Beverly Hills 90210.
Mind you, this is also a time when Fox wasn’t exactly considered “one of the networks” the way it is today. The channel was only 4 years old, and the scripted show that did THE most to establish Fox as the heavyweight it is today had only just premiered the year before (That would be The Simpsons). As one of Fox’s first major hits, Beverly Hills 90210 helped shape our modern tv landscape in ways that I doubt the audiences of 1990 could fully understand. It proved that teen-specific content was a legitimate strategy for winning viewers away from ABC, CBS, and NBC, which probably contributed to The WB bursting on the scene in 1993.
What I liked: The show is correctly centered around its two most likable characters, Brenda and Brandon. They’re the sort of everyday run-of-the-mill white kids from the midwest that provide a much needed outsiders’ perspective on the Beverly Hills bubble. I also loved the choice to have Brenda, a girl who was supposedly a bit of a wallflower back in Minnesota, immediately click with the pretty popular kids while Brendon does the reverse. He was Mr. Popularity back in Minnesota, but now finds himself eating alone on the first day of school. I love the decision to have the two siblings’ popularity moving in opposite directions this way. It gives the show a lot of room to tell interesting stories exploring what makes someone “popular” and just how subjective the trait actually is. Seeing how the two are still friendly towards one another despite their different social circumstances helps demonstrate how strong their sibling relationship is.
I also love how they hinted at some Great Gatsby style themes of how a privileged, rich upbringing can lead to hollow lives. Marianne throws wild parties at her mansion because her parents tell her to “be social” but yet she has absolutely no desire to talk to any of the people who attend these parties. It doesn’t even seem like she has any real friends at West Beverly High. Steve Sanders hints at a tumultuous relationship with his mother after a freshman who’s familiar with her celebrity persona gushes over how great she is. I honestly never expected these kinds of more intricate themes based on my prior knowledge of the show, and I hope that it continues to explore the whole “wealth doesn’t buy happiness” idea.
What I didn’t like: While the show has a fair share of likable characters, I wouldn’t say any of them are particularly interesting. (Read more about the difference here). Everyone is pretty plain, and the things that DO set teenager #1 apart from teenager #2 typically have more to do with income level and upbringing than any meaningful differences in thoughts, attitudes, or overall personalities.
Part of this stems from this being one of those pilots that tries to develop too many characters too quickly. Personally, I couldn’t care less about the dorky freshman crushing on the older pretty girl.It’s simply a cliché that hasn’t aged well, and I’m not even sure it was a good one in 1990. Not sure how much I really need to know about super strict school paper editor girl either. I would’ve loved if they had just focused on Brendon’s developing romance with Marianne and Brenda’s developing friendship with Kelly, and then the two siblings weighing in on each other’s new social lives as we go. A tighter pilot that zeroed in on a small handful of characters might’ve been able to actually make those characters unique and interesting, instead of the bland people we actually get.
The show is also a little too heavy handed with its whole “don’t forget…. we’re in Beverly Hills!” schtick. Everybody is rich. The people who are not rich like to talk about how rich the rich people are. The rich people will also talk about their richness. The houses are big, and people talk about that too. By the end of the pilot I was definitely in an “okay, I get it, please stop” place.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Sort of, but that has more to do with the tease tacked onto the end than anything in the pilot itself. I’m in no rush to watch more, and I feel like it would a a guilty pleasure at best rather than anything I truly love.